SIOUX CITY | The Sioux City Council's decision to allow a developer to build a five-story hotel on the current Sioux City Convention Center parking lot drew ire from several residents when the project passed in June.
It has remained a sore subject for some leading up to Tuesday's election, and the candidates challenging the three incumbent City Council members looking to retain their seats say they would have taken a different approach to the vote.
At the same time, incumbents stand by their votes, saying they believe the project was the best move given the circumstances and will be a vital step in moving the community forward.
On June 5, The Sioux City Council voted 4-1 in favor of entering into a development agreement with Kinseth Hospitality Inc., a North Liberty, Iowa-based developer, for construction of a hotel adjoining the Sioux City Convention Center on Fourth Street. Mayor Bob Scott cast the lone dissenting vote.
As part of the agreement, the city will grant Kinseth up to $6 million in tax rebates to construct the $20.2 million hotel, as well as spend more than $5 million -- using mostly state funding -- to upgrade the Convention Center and build an adjacent 140-space parking garage to serve hotel guests.
The hotel serves as a cornerstone piece of the Sioux City Reinvestment District, a project that includes five large-scale development projects that will receive $13.5 million in state funding through the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The IEDA's award will be repaid through the state's portion of hotel and sales taxes on the properties over a 20-year period.
Candidate Doug Waples, who has voiced his beef with the council's decision on the hotel project several times throughout his campaign, said several people he has talked with have taken issue with the city's decision on the location.
"Not one person I've talked to has come up to me and said, 'Boy, that hotel downtown is a really good deal,'" he said.
Waples said he would have rather pursued an alternate location for the project, such as the former Riviera Theatre site. He said he also takes issue with how the current hotel designs provide a narrow path for trucks backing in to access the back of the convention center.
"I personally think it’s going to kill the back of the convention center because you won’t be able to load in and out of that overhead door," he said.
Denny Quinn, another challenger, referred to other empty buildings downtown and said he would have liked to have seen the council look into another option.
"I don't know why we're building a hotel that will take up that area of parking," he said. "I would have probably looked for other alternatives."
Candidate Jake Jungers has said he supports the Reinvestment District project as a whole but would not have voted for the hotel as is. He said he wishes a refurbishment of the existing Howard Johnson hotel, which is connected to the Sioux City Convention Center via skywalk, would have been possible, although city officials have been adamant that such an avenue had already been explored.
"I think they should have done a better job of educating people first instead of rushing into it," Jungers said.
City Council members have said they believe the hotel in its current location provides the best option to boost downtown's appeal for hosting conventions and thus reducing the annual subsidy paid by the city.
Councilman Dan Moore said he wishes the city would have been able to find a way to rehabilitate the nearby Howard Johnson, but that when those expectations were found to be unrealistically expensive and did not interest developers, a new hotel became the best choice.
"Do I wish that things might have worked out a little different with the city with the other hotel? Sure," Moore said. "But the money wasn't there. There were a lot of factors that the stars didn't line up for that to happen."
Moore said while he understands people's issues with losing the surface parking lot across the street from the convention center, he believes the city will be able to find alternative locations elsewhere to lessen the impact.
Moore also said he wants the council to ensure the logistics of how trucks will back in and out will be feasible for drivers.
Like Moore, Councilman Pete Groetken said he has heard the arguments against the project, including from within the local hotel industry. Groetken said he would have been receptive to plans to renovate the Howard Johnson had they been feasible.
"What I mention to a lot of people is you don't understand is that the hotel is owned by a corporation that has the ability to upgrade if they wanted to. They've chosen not to," he said. "If they would be, I would be willing to work with that hotel."
Councilman Alex Watters said he spoke with developers about the Howard Johnson renovation, and the numbers came back too high. He said he believes the hotel will give the Convention Center a needed boost and create more of a market for that space.
"I wish, I really do, that the Howard Johnson renovation was more feasible, but when you crunch the numbers it wasn't," Watters said. "It would have been irresponsible of taxpayer dollars to go down that road."
Work could begin as early as this fall on the hotel site. While the vote has passed, the next City Council will oversee construction of the new hotel as well as renovations to the convention center and the new parking deck, including the necessary decisions associated with them.